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Abbas meets Hamas leaders in Ramallah

March 26, 2011 9:30 P.M. (Updated: March 28, 2011 9:33 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas held talks Saturday with Hamas leaders in Ramallah, in a meeting both sides described as "positive."

Aziz Dweik, the Hamas head of the Palestinian legislature, said the meeting was "highly positive" and that "practical moves on the ground will be taken in the coming days" regarding Abbas' proposed visit to Gaza to make a unity deal.

"This visit has become the people's demand and must be answered," Dweik said.

He added that he delivered a letter to Abbas from the delegation, but did not reveal its contents.

Azzam Al-Ahmad, speaker of Fatah's parliamentary bloc, said without elaborating that "the meeting was indeed positive in spite of some negative statements from the brothers in Hamas about what the president announced."

Al-Ahmad said the meeting was the first practical step taken by Hamas toward facilitating Abbas' visit.

Meanwhile, Palestinian factions meeting in Gaza City expressed their support for the landmark meeting in Ramallah, the first between Abbas and Hamas in over two years.

"The attendees support the initiative of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to invite President Mahmoud Abbas to visit Gaza, and Abbas’ response, and the meeting Abbas held earlier with Aziz Dwiek," said Osama Al-Haj Ahmed of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

However, some Fatah officials downplayed the importance of the meeting, saying Hamas' official decision is made in Gaza and by its leadership abroad.

During the meeting, Abbas discussed his initiative to end the division between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas-run government in Gaza.

On March 16, the president accepted an invitation from Gaza premier Ismail Haniyeh to visit the coastal enclave in the midst of mass youth protests calling for national unity.

But Abbas said he would go to make a deal, not to discuss one. Haniyeh had invited the president for talks.

Abbas said the purpose of the landmark trip would be to "end the division and form a government of independent national figures to start preparing for presidential, legislative and [Palestinian] National Council elections within six months."

He has not set foot in the Gaza Strip since Hamas ousted Fatah from the enclave in near civil war in 2007.

The president said Palestinians would not be able to end Israel's occupation or hold elections without achieving national unity first.

Since 2007, Gaza has been effectively cut off from the West Bank, which is under the control of Fatah, and repeated attempts at reconciliation have led nowhere.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza and the West Bank on March 15 to demand that the two factions end their long-running rivalry.

AFP contributed to this report

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